On Thursday evenings, a number of Dubs (and wannabe Dubs...I am one) have been getting together in a local coffee shop to read and discuss the first epistle of John. In this beautiful, spiraling prose that borders on poetry, the author keeps stressing that faith in Jesus Christ is grounded in the reality of God's Son taking on a real flesh and blood body in the man Yeshua of Nazareth. The writer of this epistle is battling an early form of Gnosticism which denied certain, if not all aspects of the incarnation. This ancient heresy claimed that true spirituality is found through non-material means, most explicitly realized in a special form of knowledge (gnosis is the Greek word for knowledge, hence the term Gnosticism). This teaching was elitist and led to divisions in the Christian community. It's emphasis on the ethereal had the tendency to disengage its practitioners from the realities of life in one extreme direction, while allowing unhindered moral license in another (if the material world doesn't count then what one does with one's body is inconsequential). Neither of these two extremes properly expressed the ethos of the Christian faith and by denying the foundational tenets of life in Jesus, the Gnostics had cut themselves off from the very source of true spirituality. John rightly described them as "antichrists".
I've heard that there are a few Gnostic churches springing up in our modern world. I find this disturbing, but not surprising. Over the past few years I've met a number of people who embrace neo-gnostic philosophies when it comes to spirituality. But I also think our present world is in danger of disengaging from reality as much, if not more than the ancient gnostics in other areas of life. For instance, how often do people miss out on meaningful conversation and relationship with the person(s) sitting right in front of them? It's not uncommon to walk down the busy city streets in Dublin and pass dozens of people who are glued to their smartphones while (sort of) navigating other pedestrians and traffic. Many of the cars these people are dodging have drivers who are just as preoccupied with their mobile devises. As dangerous as this may be from a purely physical perspective, it poses even more social and spiritual risks to our society. The Matrix was prophetic, but instead of people being unaware that they're "plugged in", many are simply voluntarily signing up for a life of (virtual) reality. But I can't keep from thinking that this (un)real life isn't as rich and fulfilling as it could be.
First John provides some answers for us I believe. The theme of the entire letter is summed up in 4:7-12, "Beloved, let us love one another, because love is from God; everyone who loves is born of God and knows God. Whoever does not love does not know God, for God is love. God's love was revealed among us in this way: God sent his only Son into the world so that we might live through him. In this is love, not that we loved God but that he loved us and sent his Son to be the atoning sacrifice for our sins. Beloved, since God loved us so much, we also ought to love one another. No one has ever seen God; if we love one another, God lives in us, and his love is perfected in us."
It all begins and ends in God - it all begins and ends in love. How is God love? In his very being, he exists in loving relationship: Father, Son, and Spirit. We as humanity are made in his image - made for loving relationship. God so loved us that despite our sin and brokenness, he entered into the mess of human reality. He not only made us in his image, he took on our image in the real life man, Jesus of Nazareth. Those who embrace this Jesus and choose to live life through him have the opportunity to not only receive the love of God, but to pour that love out to others. This requires us to live and engage with life the way that Jesus did - to get down and dirty; to get real. It's not easy. Sometimes it would be nicer to escape to the various worlds floating out there in cyberspace. But just as true life wasn't found in the ethereal world of the Gnostics, but in the tangible day to day encounters of people expressing love for one another in action, so the abundant life promised by Jesus, I believe, more often is manifested in our day to day encounters with real people and (un-virtual) reality than through the online world. I pray Christ's body will embrace the opportunity to offer an alternative lifestyle to the world around us. Let's get real! - Shay